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Thread: Dull PowerPoint presentations: why do audiences love them so much?

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    Cyburbia Administrator Dan's avatar
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    Dull PowerPoint presentations: why do audiences love them so much?

    I've complained here about terrible PowerPoint presentations on several occasions; the people who use the generic stock slides, pass out printed handouts with the contents of the slides, and read the slide text word for word, as if it was a telepromoter.

    I know many of you will chime in with "word, brother", or something to that effect. Still, those that do so are probably in the minority; a very small minority, it seems. At a recent planning and zoning workshop I attended, most of the presentations were PowerPoint presentations of this ilk, and I felt like I was the only one in the audience who was bored stiff with them. Most people seemed to pay close attention, fixated on the screen, turning the pages of their handouts as a group, and even taking notes, even though the presenter was just reading the damn slides word-for-word with no additional commentary.

    To those among the crowd, why do you find such presentations so engrossing and fascinating? I'd really like to know. Does my ADD color my impression of such presentations? To those planners who offer such presentations to the public -- and admit it, there's probably many Cyburbians that do so on a regular basis -- why do you prefer this style of presentation? Have you found it receives a positive response from the audience?

  2. #2
    Cyburbian Wannaplan?'s avatar
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    I ran across this recently, "Death by PowerPoint (and How to Fight It)," and thought you might like it. It's ironic on a few slides.

  3. #3
    Cyburbian SW MI Planner's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Dan View post
    Most people seemed to pay close attention, fixated on the screen, turning the pages of their handouts as a group, and even taking notes, even though the presenter was just reading the damn slides word-for-word with no additional commentary.
    It they are anything like me, I pretend to be interested and spend my time writing to do lists, grocery lists, figuring my calendar. I have even gone so far in designing my landscaping.

  4. #4
    Cyburbian
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    A couple years ago, I helped a guy prepare a presentation on story boards. He was/is a one man engineering firm going against the big boys. He knew he couldn't out Power Point the guys and wanted to stand out so he went low tech.

    Interesting concept, but he didn't get the job

  5. #5
    Cyburbian illinoisplanner's avatar
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    As an intern, I gave one of those long, dull, word-for-word power points, trying to do my best to incorporate lots of pictures to make it interesting. My boss told me though, that it just takes practice and experience, and eventually I'll be doing 10-words-per slide power points, filling in with unscripted dialogue, just like him, eventually. Which I think is probably true...and very encouraging.

  6. #6
    moderator in moderation Suburb Repairman's avatar
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    That is a pet peeve of mine...

    My rules: no more than six lines of text on any slide, and no more than three words per line. The rest is semi-rehearsed combined with improv. When possible, include a graphic or photograph. Never, NEVER use one of the freebie templates PowerPoint comes with. It's not hard to create your own templates.

    I've found the best way to get folks to pay attention is with humor. If they remember something funny in a presentation, often the humorous context will help them remember more about the topic being discussed. Being an engaged, active speaker helps as well. Some of my coworkers have jokingly called me "the evangelist" because I tend to prowl around the audience and am very animated.

    "Oh, that is all well and good, but, voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country."

    - Herman Göring at the Nuremburg trials (thoughts on democracy)

  7. #7
    Cyburbian Cardinal's avatar
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    I always try to use a photo, graph, table, or other graphic device to help tell the story. The text is just a few bullet points to help me keep track of where I am and what I want to say. When I have time I can often take much of this out, but when I finish up the presentation the night before I give it, I need the help. My last presentation was one of those.
    Anyone want to adopt a dog?

  8. #8
    Cyburbian Veloise's avatar
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    Dan, do you attend my church?? Today in the annual meeting, Finance Guy stood, cued up the PPT, began reading every word.

    I'd already voted for my five executive committee members, so I voted on his presentation.

    [used to work as a graphic designer laying out perfectly-centered and coordinated PPTs]

  9. #9
    Cyburbian H's avatar
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    To play devil’s advocate, even though the presenter may be well aware that the “read every word” presentation will be quite boring, at least it won’t be erroneous… so it is sorta like sacrificing the panache to CYA.

    That being said, I try to have short bullets and talk about them (not read them), but there have been times when I have been rushed and not been able to adequately practice the presentation, and then it is long-winded slides and word for word city (not proud, but true)!
    "Those who plan do better than those who do not plan, even though they rarely stick to their plan." - Winston Churchill

  10. #10
    Cyburbian
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    On rare occasions, I have used multiple bullet points that have more than 7 words on a slide (or even paragraph size quotations). I try to use good judgement when advancing each bullet point (5-7 seconds per line), and don't say anything until the end of the slide.

    As a personal touch, I like to use subheadings arranged chronologically in a column on the far left or far right side of the screen. The subheading for the current slide is usually white, and the other subheadings in this column are semi-transparent (I usually use a dark single color or single-color gradient background). When the subheading changes several slides later, the new subheading is white, and the old subheading is transparent along with the rest. People can tell exactly where I am at in the presentation, and I have received a bunch of compliments from the audience for keeping them awake and focused on an otherwise boring presentation.

  11. #11
    Cyburbian Michele Zone's avatar
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    A couple of things that occur to me:
    A) Most folks need a certain amount of repetition to get a concept. Some folks don't and it has nothing to do with ADD. Those folks who need the repetition and are serious about learning stuff may well appreciate the fact that it is being repeated at least 3 times for them: On the screen, on their handout, and verbally by the presenter (or four times if they are also writing stuff down). If presenters find that style has a higher retention rate than other styles, that may be why they favor it. Or they may favor it because it's easy for them.

    B) Some folks may be a lot less engrossed than they seem. At professional presentations, people often feel compelled to appear to pay attention, whether they do or not, so that their boss is suitably impressed with how professional, committed, etc. they are. The fact that you don't feel compelled to APPEAR to pay more attention than you are may well be related to ADD. ADD and ASD are related and some folks like that really don't give a rat's arse what people think of them, often to their social detriment. So as SW MI Planner said, they may be making grocery lists or doodling in the borders rather than taking notes -- purely for social reasons, to look "professional", studious, etc.

  12. #12
    Super Moderator luckless pedestrian's avatar
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    I hold a lot of meetings in old schoolhouses so I use the blackboard - people seem to like it better - I use PowerPoint when photo slides are involved or if I want to use a catchy phrase or joke to make a point - I leave the joke line up there while I tell the story or make the point - it relaxes people a little

  13. #13
    Cyburbian Mud Princess's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by luckless pedestrian View post
    I hold a lot of meetings in old schoolhouses so I use the blackboard - people seem to like it better
    Hey, you can always scrape the blackboard with your nails to keep your audience awake!

  14. #14
    Cyburbian Joe Iliff's avatar
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    Since Abraham Lincoln gave his Gettysburg Address 144 years ago today, this would be an appropriate link for this thread.

    How would the greatest speech in American history looks in PowerPoint:

    http://www.cs.berkeley.edu/~russell/gettysburg/
    Last edited by NHPlanner; 19 Nov 2007 at 11:25 AM. Reason: fixed url in link
    JOE ILIFF
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  15. #15
    Cyburbian Tide's avatar
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    Unfortunately Power Point has become a Must have instead of a tool in our toolbox.

    I look at powerpoint to get across the ideas you cannot do in a short speech. It should help you, not actually BE the presentation. I've handed out powerpoint before without actually speaking from it. Let them digest it in their own time. I do not prefer to use powerpoint for text, except the occasional title or heading, but to visually portray what you are looking at, a map, a building, a streetscape etc. etc.
    @GigCityPlanner

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    Cyburbian tsc's avatar
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    For a series of public information meetings, we created a custom presentation with narration and just played it as a movie. I think it worked well,,, as we were able to script the presentation (making sure the bulleted text were just highlights to the narration). It actually went over quite well and then we were assured that everyone got the exact same presentation or we could just give people copies of the presentation on CD.

    I hate it when people use all the PP trick,,, flying text, etc. I am also not a fan of the auto formatting. I usually create my own backgrounds, etc.
    "Yeehaw!" is not a foreign policy

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  17. #17
    Cyburbian jmello's avatar
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    I wholeheartedly agree with you! When I do use Powerpoint, I do not hand out copies of the slides (or any other distracting material), and I add much, much more commentary (only displying highlights on the slides). I guess you have to actually know your stuff to do that though

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    Super Moderator kjel's avatar
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    I've come to realize that there are many more bad PP presentations than good ones. I agree with all the previously stated gripes and remedies to them. I like to design my own slides and layouts...keep text content to a minimum and when I do give handouts I tend to give the ones that allow for notes to be taken since I don't give the whole farm away.
    "He defended the cause of the poor and needy, and so all went well. Is that not what it means to know me?" Jeremiah 22:16

  19. #19
    Cyburbian
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    I think people like to give them because:
    *They can put up the complete text of what they will say on the screen and then don't have to actually remember.
    *While giving the presentation, no one is looking at the presenter. They are all either looking at the screen, looking at something on their desk/lap, or staring into space.

    People like to watch them because:
    *They don't have to pay attention. It's easy to fake. Smile, nod, furrow the brow, and continue doodling on the handout.
    *They have a handout or can copy down what is on the screen and don't need to pay attention because they have a hard copy.

    And those are my thoughts... I could pare them down into brief bullet points and make a show out of it!

  20. #20
    Cyburbian Emeritus Chet's avatar
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    With the new firm, we tried a new approach. Prepare the PPT, then plot it out at 24" x 36' and make a flip chart. NO handouts. No reading verbatim. Worked very well.

  21. #21
    Cyburbian Planit's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Chet View post
    With the new firm, we tried a new approach. Prepare the PPT, then plot it out at 24" x 36' and make a flip chart. NO handouts. No reading verbatim. Worked very well.
    We did this too and called it a poster session. That peaked interest and did seem to work well. Used mainly graphics & pictures with very few words.

    It depends on my audience and topic on how I prepare a PPT. Some citizen groups will get the standard bullets, but others get more graphics. One of the most fun presentations had words only on the title page, the rest were pictures and illustrations that flipped between before/after shots and how it would look if the plan was fully implemeted.
    "Whatever beer I'm drinking, is better than the one I'm not." DMLW
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  22. #22
    Cyburbian Emeritus Bear Up North's avatar
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    This Bear does a couple variations of PowerPoint.....

    Canned Programs.....I have a number of safety programs that I use for training (educating) of new employees. These programs were purchased from companies that do this sort of thing for a living. The canned presentations have been slightly-modified to fit my specific environment. They help me meet the legal requirements for training (education). Topics include "Lock Out / Tag Out", "Hazard Communication", "Bloodborne Pathogens", "Fork Lift Baasics". The canned programs saved me a ton of time and effort.....and include quickie tests at the end.

    Because they are so generic I just know that viewers are looking at some of the included photos and thinking, "That sure doesn't look like MY work area." Does it keep their attention? Most likely, YES.....they generally score well on the quickie tests.

    When I give these presentations......or my supervisors present them.....we all tend to stick to the script, except pointing-out specific hazards in our workplace.

    Scratch Programs.....We build a good number of "scratch" PowerPoint programs, including some bullets and some graphs. Depending on the audience and the topic, the number of bullets and graphs varies. Almost every slide is light on content and heavy on a discussion of how the presented info relates to our business.
    _____

    Audiences in my biz seem to be OK with PP. If they had a choice between PP or flip-charts.....PP would win.
    _____

    Off-site meetings I attend on a regular basis, such as my involvement with a NW Ohio Management Roundtable or the local Safety Council, tend to hand-out copies of the presentations. They follow that procedure knowing that the info presented will then be presented back at the home office of the attendee.
    _____

    Snicker-Snicker Time: I have PP on my home computer, because I do some work stuff at the home desk. I should make up a PP presentation for Katie. That would drive her up a wall. (My goal in life.)

    Snicker-Snicker-Snicker Time: Same thought process. Develop a PP for the next Stanfest event.



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  23. #23
    Cyburbian Masswich's avatar
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    I know of people (not me, of course! ) who use Powerpoint intentionally to dull an audience into not asking too many questions or as a way of subtlely expressing a lack of enthusiasm for something.

    I generally use boards and not Powerpoint for things I want to "sell" but not always. Sometimes there are audiences that expect Powerpoint and so I try not to disappoint them.

  24. #24
    Cyburbian
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    Ugh, nothing I hate more than a boring Powerpoint! If it's all just text...what's the point?! I ONLY use powerpoint if I have lots of images/charts/graphs/etc to use. Even then I keep words to absolute minimal and only the big points to help summarize.

  25. #25
    Cyburbian Planderella's avatar
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    Ironically, I went to a local APA luncheon where the speaker talked about how planners need to convey their ideas more graphically and visually, much in the same vein as architects. His PowerPoint was an all white background with Times New Roman text and no graphics. Talk about the pot calling the kettle black.

    Personally, I don't mind handing out copies of the presentation. I find that people like tangible things, plus you can include all of the pertinent contact info without giving out all your business cards or writing the info down over and over again. I'm not a scripted presenter, so you'll never see me reading directly off the slides. I use the text on the slide as a talking point and generally expound from there.
    "A witty woman is a treasure, a witty beauty is a power!"

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